Engaging with your audience on social media has rapidly become an integral way to grow customer segments and increase revenue streams. It’s standard practice now for all good events to have an event hashtag. As we learned in our last blog post, the hashtag is a clever hack first introduced by Chris Messina allowing fans to follow specific events, that now enables any brand, regardless of size or official affiliation to compete for fan attention.

The first time a hashtag was used by the public to categorise tweets was during the San Diego fire in October 2007, when Nate Ritter used Twitter to report on the fire using a hashtag.

Twitter officially embraced hashtags in 2009 and hyperlinked them to search results. Tumblr was also one of the early adopters of hashtags. In 2010 Twitter moved Trending Topics to its homepage, formalizing hashtags as a conversation driver on Twitter.

As Twitter users adopted hashtags as a normal part of the Twitter conversation, hashtags started featuring in popular culture like TV shows, celebrities’ promotions and mainstream media.

The pop-culture adoption of hashtags helped push hashtags into other social networks. Instagram adopted hashtags in 2011, Flickr in 2013 and Facebook in 2013.

Hashtags for Marketing Engagement

However, for brands or rights holders in sport it’s never as simple as setting up a Facebook or Twitter account and assuming people will engage with you. Sporting events have become beacons for consumers, and now businesses and brands are using opportunities like this to engage potential customers.

The world’s top 100 brands have adopted the use of hashtags almost completely. These companies have realized that hashtags help drive fan engagement. When compared to Tweets without a hashtag, tweets with hashtags showed 12 percent more engagement. Tweets that included a link and a hashtag, showed the highest engagement rate of any other type of tweet.

Tweets with hashtags per regular tweets

Multiple Channel Hashtags

Brands can now tie activity across multiple channels using one hashtag. A good example being the Superbowl, during #SB49 ads included more hashtags than any other ocial signal (including Twitter handles and Facebook account names). Brands used hashtags because of their cross-channel nature.

Hashtag superbowl media leaderboard

Since most social media channels adopted hashtags as an identifier, brands can now run cross-channel campaigns with one common identifier, virtually making hashtags the global connector of the social web.

Take for example Liverpool FC, on announcing their recent appointment of Jurgen Klopp as the new manager they utilised the #KloppLFC hashtag across all their social profiles (alongside the press conference). The hashtag started trending worldwide within minutes of the club announcement. This hashtag helped create a serious buzz around both the announcement and around the Liverpool FC brand and helped engage Liverpool fans globally.

Hashtags during the Rugby World Cup

The hashtag “#RWC2015” was common throughout the recent Rugby World Cup tournament and cleverly featured a number of different emojis over the 6 week RWC period. These variations applied to not only the main #RWC2015 hashtag but also individual team hashtags, as a result the tournament organisers engaged with fans through social media on a number of different levels via these innovative hashtags.#

Dutch brewing company Heineken were one of the main sponsors for this year’s Rugby World Cup and unified their presence on social media with a number of hashtags. Heineken went one further by introducing their own: #ItsYourCall”. The campaign featured former rugby players, including Shane Horgan, Will Carling and Jonah Lomu (RIP Jonah : Rugby Legend) who would answer tweets and questions directed at them which featured this hashtag. In this way, Heineken were able to use their fan base to drive content and make them feel like part of the event.

This was one of the features across all their Twitter accounts in different countries, with other hashtags like #ShoulderToShoulder also being used for the duration of Ireland’s campaign.

UFC and Reebok Partnership

Stateside, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has become one of the fastest growing sports organisations in the world. Last month, main apparel sponsors, Reebok, announced a new social media campaign.

Fans were asked to send messages of support for UFC fighter Ronda Rousey to @Reebok with the hashtag ‘#MoreThanTape’. The messages were printed on handwraps to be given to her before her fight against Holly Holm. The Instagram post announcing the campaign was Reebok’s top post in the past quarter, with 14,000 likes (see below).

With control over the brand on social media now, they have garnered over half a million followers on Instagram alone, compared to just over 2,000 two years ago. Mixed martial arts has an almost fanatical following, with huge crowds turning out for events globally, including Dublin. By launching the #MoreThanTape campaign, fans were able to share their support for one of the sport’s most high profile athletes.

It engaged fans globally, with no restriction where these words of support came from. It unified followers efforts and brought them together during the sporting event. What’s key for these large scale events is the sense of community and of being part of something. Hashtag innovation is doing just that.

T-Mobile go Viral

On the lighter side, T-Mobile used their sponsorship of the Arizona Diamondbacks and their #azdatastrongfan twitter hashtag for the best fan photo competition. Which also resulted in this hilarious selfie video. It got fans involved and as a result had the added bonus of their campaign going viral.

Hashtag innovation promotes creativity, fan inclusion and encourages sponsor brands and sports rights-holders to attempt something a little less formal to interact with customers and fans.

Hashtags have become more than just a way to group posts or add a narrative to updates. Marketers have found new, clever ways to use hashtags as a means to drive conversation, garner public support and get attention to their brand. Have you seen any other great examples of hashtag innovation? Tweet us at @crowdsight_ and let us know!

The key for sponsors is to connect with the audience through social media and listen to how they respond. Ensure your brand is prepared to maximise the benefit from the live events you invest in!